Spring Refresher: The Linemen

Most football games are usually won in the trenches by the big uglies. Last year ISU came up woefully short in this area. Can drastic improvement be expected this spring? Expect to see a lot of newcomers like Joe McMahon (pictured left).

Defensive Line

Austin Alburtis, Fr. (RS)

Bryce Braaksma, Sr. (RS)

Travis Ferguson, Jr.

Nate Frere, So.

Nick Frere, Jr. (RS)

Nick Howe, Sr.

Chase Hurtig, Fr. (RS)

Bailey Johnson, Fr. (RS)

Patrick Neal, Fr. (RS)

Rashawn Parker, So.

Ahytba Rubin, Sr.

Kyle Slifka, Fr. (RS)

Nick Slobidsky, Sr.

Kurtis Taylor, Jr. (RS)

Is there a consistent and proven playmaker in the house?

This is the position that separates the men from the boys in college football. Defensive linemen are the toughest position to recruit, and most schools have to manufacture their own; like Iowa State did with Nick Leaders for four years. There's a paucity of them in the prep ranks, which is why year in and year out the elite teams are usually separated from the also-rans by the caliber of athletes they have along the defensive line.

Lost in the shuffle of hiring Gene Chizik as its head coach is the fact that ISU also added one of the top 3-5 defensive coordinators in the country when it got him to agree to come to Ames. He'll have his work cut out for him molding this unit into one capable of competing against a brutal schedule. The good news is that reinforcements arrive later this summer.

For now, here's what we've got.

Parker looked like the next coming of Tyson Smith or Jason Berryman for about two weeks last season, before hitting some mysterious freshman wall and basically disappearing. He has tremendous speed and instincts, but last season he showed the only pass-rushing technique he had was the outside speed rush. He'll need to improve his stamina and repertoire this spring.

Taylor was emerging last spring and summer before blowing out his knee in fall camp. If he's recovered he will definitely challenge for a starting spot. Braaksma is a solid, journeyman-type player who will give you all he has but he's limited athletically. Thus far, Ferguson has been a looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane player. He needs to be less Cephus Johnson and more Shawn Moorehead. Rubin could be a two-gap plugger with his size if he can stay on his feet.

Nate Frere was a player the previous staff was very high on and thought they could build around in the future. Johnson, Neal, and Alburtis will get more work than they've ever seen this spring as the new staff attempts to find out right away if either of them have a future in the Tampa-2. The rest of the players are question marks.

Bottom line: we need to hope at least a couple of the newcomers are ready for primetime when they arrive this summer, otherwise we could be in some serious trouble at this position when you consider there are some very physical teams on our schedule this fall.

Offensive Line

Alex Alvarez, So.

Joe Blaes, Jr.

Doug Dedrick, So.

Matt Hulbert, Fr. (RS)

Brandon Johnson, Jr. (RS)

Mike Knapp, So.

Joe McMahon, Jr.

Matt Purvis, Sr.

Tom Schmeling, Jr. (RS)

Sean Smith, Fr. (RS)

Patrick Steinback, Fr. (RS)

Reggie Stephens, So.

Landon Streit, So. (RS)

Lee Tibbs, Sr.

Joe Vanstrom, Jr. (RS)

Jose Vargas, Fr. (RS)

Evan Vencil, So.

Anthony Walker, Sr.

Offensive linemen are like Major League Baseball umpires. You typically don't notice them until they do something wrong, and when they make news it's usually for the wrong reasons.

So it gives you an idea of just where ISU is at in Chizik's first year when the biggest story of the entire spring is the development of a unit that usually flies under the publicity radar screen. Of course, Cyclone fans have recently been made painfully aware of just how vital an offensive line can be.

It's been the lack of consistency and productivity from this unit that has held the program back the last two years, and very well may have been what forced Dan McCarney to "resign." I would make the argument that with the exception of the second half of the 2004 season, the offensive line at ISU has been at best serviceable and at worst a self-inflicted wound since the 2001 season.

The curse of the extra year given to former offensive line coach/Easter egg abuser Marty Fine to wreak havoc on ISU's recruiting at this position is the curse that keeps on cursing. Under his tutelage, and with McCarney giving him the benefit of the doubt over the objections of several other former ISU assistants at the time, the Cyclones essentially lost two straight years of offensive line recruiting. Few programs that regularly contend for BCS berths could overcome that, let alone a still developing one like ISU has.

Fine's ineptness, and McCarney's unwillingness to pull the plug out of loyalty, continues to greatly damage this program. Remember the name Marty Fine the next time somebody tries to tell you coaches don't really make that much of a difference. ISU was in such a hole that a well-respected offensive line coach like Barney Cotton couldn't dig us out of it in two years.

Right now there are two holdover players the new staff can build around—Stephens and Schmeling. After that it's a crapshoot, and you have to think that if the new staff was all that confident in what's on the roster they wouldn't have signed so many JUCOs and had them enroll already. Keep in mind that Chizik knows this unit well, he scouted them as the Texas defensive coordinator last season so he already had a pretty good idea of just how anemic we are.

I do think one youngster to keep an eye on is Matt Hulbert. He has good size and the new staff used him to host recruits this winter, and you don't think they would allow him to play ambassador if they didn't think he had a future with the program. Beyond that, if at least half of the quartet of Alvarez, Blaes, Dedrick, and McMahon go Fisher Twins this spring it could make for a long fall.




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